An engine or motor is a machine designed to convert energy into useful mechanical motion. Heat engines, including internal combustion engines and external combustion engines (such as steam engines) burn a fuel to create heat, which then creates motion. Electric motors convert electrical energy into mechanical motion, pneumatic motors use compressed air and others—such as clockwork motors in wind-up toys—use elastic energy. In biological systems, molecular motors, like myosins in muscles, use chemical energy to create motion.

"Engine" was originally a term for any mechanical device that converts force into motion. Hence, pre-industrial weapons such as catapults, trebuchets and battering rams were called "siege engines". The word "gin," as in "cotton gin", is short for "engine." The word derives from Old French engin, from the Latin ingenium, which is also the root of the word ingenious. Most mechanical devices invented during the industrial revolution were described as engines—the steam engine being a notable example.

In modern usage, the term engine typically describes devices, like steam engines and internal combustion engines, that burn or otherwise consume fuel to perform mechanical work by exerting a torque or linear force to drive machinery that generates electricity, pumps water, or compresses gas. In the context of propulsion systems, an air-breathing engine is one that uses atmospheric air to oxidise the fuel rather than supplying an independent oxidizer, as in a rocket.

When the internal combustion engine was invented, the term "motor" was initially used to distinguish it from the steam engine—which was in wide use at the time, powering locomotives and other vehicles such as steam rollers. "Motor" and "engine" later came to be used interchangeably in casual discourse. However, technically, the two words have different meanings. An engine is a device that burns or otherwise consumes fuel, changing its chemical composition, whereas a motor is a device driven by electricity, which does not change the chemical composition of its energy source.

A heat engine may also serve as a prime mover—a component that transforms the flow or changes in pressure of a fluid into mechanical energy. An automobile powered by an internal combustion engine may make use of various motors and pumps, but ultimately all such devices derive their power from the engine. Another way of looking at it is that a motor receives power from an external source, and then converts it into mechanical energy, while an engine creates power from pressure (derived directly from the explosive force of combustion or other chemical reaction, or secondarily from the action of some such force on other substances such as air, water, or steam).

Devices converting heat energy into motion are commonly referred to simply as engines.

The first commercially successful automobile, created by Karl Benz, added to the interest in light and powerful engines. The lightweight petrol internal combustion engine, operating on a four-stroke Otto cycle, has been the most successful for light automobiles, while the more efficient Diesel engine is used for trucks and buses. However, in recent years, turbo Diesel engines have become increasingly popular, especially outside of the United States, even for quite small cars.

Horizontally opposed pistons
In 1896, Karl Benz was granted a patent for his design of the first engine with horizontally opposed pistons. His design created an engine in which the corresponding pistons move in horizontal cylinders and reach top dead center simultaneously, thus automatically balancing each other with respect to their individual momentum. Engines of this design are often referred to as flat engines because of their shape and lower profile. They are or were used in: the Volkswagen Beetle, some Porsche and Subaru cars, many BMW and Honda motorcycles, and aircraft engines (for propeller driven aircraft), etc.

Continuance of the use of the internal combustion engine for automobiles is partly due to the improvement of engine control systems (onboard computers providing engine management processes, and electronically controlled fuel injection). Forced air induction by turbocharging and supercharging have increased power outputs and engine efficiencies. Similar changes have been applied to smaller diesel engines giving them almost the same power characteristics as petrol engines. This is especially evident with the popularity of smaller diesel engine propelled cars in Europe. Larger diesel engines are still often used in trucks and heavy machinery, although they require special machining not available in most factories. Diesel engines produce lower hydrocarbon and CO2 emissions, but greater particulate and NOx pollution, than gasoline engines. Diesels are also 40% more fuel efficient than a comparable gasoline engine.

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